12 November 1999

Top dogs worth investment

Sheepdogs are an

indispensable tool on many

farms. And training them can

be a rewarding if, at times,

frustrating task for farmers.

Tim Relf visits one dog as it

settles in to its new home

MOSS is limping. Her front right leg is badly bruised after she was hit by a car.

But it could have been a lot worse. Initial fears of internal injuries were unfounded – she escaped with a bad case of bruising. She spent a few days feeling sorry for herself. Then she was back on form, back out on Adam and Ellen Simons farm at West Bexington, Dorset.

Nine-month-old Moss was snapped up by the couple as a three-month pup. They saw her mother – a competition winner – in action and their minds were made up.

"Very impressive," remembers Adam. "Moss should have it inside her, too."

She hears her name, comes into the living room, has her tummy rubbed, then heads back to her basket. Shes an attractive bitch; a bi-coloured border collie, with flecks of merle on her face.

The Simons needed a good worker for their 138ha (340 acre) mixed organic farm. Ellen says: "We could cope without a dog, but it would be incredibly time consuming."

While they are dog lovers – and having an animal which was comfortable around the house and good with the children was essential – they see Moss as an investment not a luxury. "It is a functional farm tool which, if you look at the payback period, justifies spending a significant amount of money," says Adam.

Thats why the Simons were happy to pay £90 for her and why they plan to take training lessons with Richard Brown, the Dorset-based shepherd and specialist dog trainer. The teaching process is fun and rewarding – one of the pleasures of ownership, they say.

&#42 Satisfying partnership

"It may be a lot of fun riding a quad bike around the field, but its very satisfying working a dog. Its a satisfying partnership. Theres no question of the dog being unsatisfied."

This interest in training was partly why they didnt get a fully-trained bitch. And can you expect the same responsiveness and attentiveness from a dog trained by somebody else? wonders Ellen. "Its not like a tractor."

Early training has involved basic obedience. Giving Moss encouragement and praise and, by word association, getting her to recognise and respond to words like come, sit and stay. The signs have been heartening, with Moss proving to be alert. "Shes intensely interested in things."

Speed and bravery are two characteristics of which she has no shortage. "She outran a hare. Shes got plenty of speed and shes not the slightest bit scared of cows."

Shes quick mentally, too. "She knows what I am about to tell her, just before I tell her," says Adam. "We havent got to the stage where you tell her to do something, she does it and then wonders why she did it afterwards. Were not there yet, but were getting there."

Perhaps shes a little easily excited, though, as she demonstrated when seeing seagulls from the nearby coast.

"She took it as her task," remembers Adam of one of her first outings, "to keep the gulls in the air."

&#42 20 minutes a day

The aim is to spend one or two 20-minute sessions a day on training. But on a busy farm this may not always be feasible. "When youre under pressure and theres a conflict between getting a job done and a training session, the training will have to wait," he says.

Meanwhile, Moss is learning all the time. She has been taught to jump fences and to ride on the box on the tractor. Shes improving, too, but has a long way to go.

How much more can she improve? "Shes going to be perfect," says Ellen, laughing and looking fondly at Moss. Then she thinks again, smiles. Well, maybe not. "Training a dog can be very frustrating as well."

&#8226 FW will be visiting

Moss again in a couple of months time to see how shes progressing.

Cost of working sheepdog

£/year

Eight weeks to 12-months-old

Buying pup 150

Inoculations 36

Insurance 135

Worming 7

Bowls, collars, lead, ID tag 20

Kennel: house/run 300

Training 100

Food for 12 months 145

Total £893

Adult dog

Inoculations 18

Insurance 135

Worming 14

Other vet visits 60

Food 185

Kennelling (14-day holiday) 126

Total £538

Source: Richard Brown